Everyday Kitchen -
Last week, some colleagues and I enjoyed a lovely lunch at a local eatery and when my mom asked me what I had - you know you'd get asked the same thing - the first thing I remembered was the delicious spread slathered on slices of warm bread served before the main course.
Sometimes it's the little things that make a meal special, and don't underestimate the specialness of a homemade savoury spread to dress up a plain roll or as a flavour booster for meat and vegetables, or even on a sandwich.
And since most of us are trying to take off the holiday poundage, anything that replaces butter without compromising flavour can't be bad.
Date and onion marmalade
Serve this heavenly mixture on a toasted smoked ham or corned beef sandwich, or on a plain fried or broiled piece of chicken or pork. Spread it on a roll and serve with whatever cheeses you like as a full first course for lots of compliments.
2 large red onions, finely chopped
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. cocoa
1/2 cup finely chopped dates
1/4 cup dry brandy
2 tbsp. each brown sugar, honey and balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fry onions over medium heat in olive oil until wilted, 8 to 10 minutes. Add cocoa, stirring until well mixed. Add dates, brandy, brown sugar, honey, and vinegar and cook until dates are soft and onion is golden brown, about 10 minutes. If mixture seems too dry and begins to stick to the pan add water in small amounts as needed - you want the consistency of marmalade. Stir in salt and pepper. Store in the refrigerator up to two weeks.
Spiced tomato jam
There are hundreds of recipes for tomato jam, but I like this one because it is slightly sweet with just the right amount of spiced heat. A spoonful of this hot from the pan will make a bowl of tomato soup from a can taste like a gourmet treat. Cool it off and what it does for a chicken sandwich is spectacular.
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. each ground ginger, cumin and cinnamon
pinch each cayenne pepper, allspice and freshly ground nutmeg
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. grated fresh gingerroot
28 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 tbsp. each white sugar and honey
1 tbsp. lime juice
1 tbsp. white wine or plain white vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper (optional)
Fry onion in oil until soft. Stir in spices and cook another minute or two. Add garlic and fresh ginger and cook until fragrant, then stir in tomatoes, sugar, honey, lime juice, vinegar and salt. Simmer together, uncovered, about 30 minutes or until reduced to desired thickness. Add pepper and taste for salt - add a little more if you need it.
A traditional Moroccan herb paste, charmoula (or sometimes spelled chermoula) is being discovered all over the western world.
The local grocery store has a version of it in a bottled sauce, and it's not too bad, although I prefer making it myself because it is so easy. You can use the basic paste without the mayonnaise to cook any meat - try rubbing it on lamb chops than broiling them for a fantastic winter treat, and on cod or halibut it is spectacular.
But save some and make this fabulous spread for sandwiches or buns, or serve alongside hot or cold roasted meat or vegetables.
Stir a spoonful of the paste into yogurt, add a little vinegar and serve as a salad dressing or tossed with fresh grape tomatoes, or stir some into hot couscous - nothing but good comes from having a jar of this around for a couple of days.
This mixture is quite delicious using raw onion, pepper and garlic, but caramelizing in olive oil adds a layer of taste that's hard to resist.
By the way, bottled ground cumin and coriander are just fine, but if you are so inclined, toast the seeds in a hot frying pan then grind them yourself in a spice or coffee grinder for the ultimate flavour hit.
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped (remove seeds and ribs to reduce the heat)
3 to 4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. each salt and smoked (or sweet) paprika
good pinch saffron threads (optional)
1/2 cup each chopped fresh cilantro and Italian parsley
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup mayonnaise (not salad dressing)
Fry onion in oil until soft and starting to turn golden brown. Stir in jalapeno, garlic, cumin, coriander, salt, paprika, and saffron and cook until fragrant and well combined. Cool and place in a blender with cilantro, parsley, lemon juice and zest and buzz it until it is smooth. Whisk into mayonnaise or use some of the paste in another dish.
Rosemary and honey
onion tomato spread
I'm a sucker for rosemary, so it was inevitable that I discover this.
I'm sure it would be great on pizza or sandwiches, or with hot or cold meat and veggies, but I'm happy with a half-inch worth on top of a split warm dinner roll or spread more sparingly on whole grain toast.
Fresh rosemary makes a big difference here, but if you can't get it, the dried is an OK substitute.
2 large yellow onions, diced
1 large jar (about 2 cups) oil - packed sun - dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup red or white wine vinegar
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
3 tbsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. minced fresh rosemary (or 1 tsp. dried)
Combine onions, tomatoes, garlic, vinegar, wine, broth, brown sugar and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until mixture is jammy, about 30 minutes.
Stir often and add a little water if it gets too thick or starts to stick. Remove from heat and stir in rosemary.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John's. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John's, NL, A1E 4N1.